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Two Idaho XC Individuals, One Team Qualify For Nike Cross Nationals
The Coeur d'Alene boys remain unbeaten in competition this year
Published: 11/14/2023 9:20:29 AM
Marlowe Hereford
Contributing Writer


EAGLE ISLAND STATE PARK--One boy, one girl and one boys team extended their cross country season and gained the opportunity to represent Idaho next month at Nike Cross Nationals.

Rocky Mountain senior Landon Heemeyer placed second in the championship boys race, Skyline senior Nelah Roberts placed fourth in the championship girls race and the Coeur d'Alene boys won the championship boys team title on Saturday at Nike Cross Northwest Regionals at Eagle Island State Park to automatically qualify for nationals (NXN) on Dec. 2 in Portland, Ore. The Coeur d'Alene boys, running under the club name North Idaho XC, are the first Idaho boys team to ever qualify for NXN.

"We're shocked but we're ecstatic," said senior Jacob King, who finished in eighth place in 15:26.9. "We couldn't be more proud, honestly. It's been an honor to run for the state of Idaho and we are blessed."

The top five individuals and top two teams from Saturday's meet earned automatic qualifications to NXN. Individual and team at-large bids will be named by Nike in two weeks.

Coeur d'Alene has not lost a meet all season, winning the Mountain West Classic in Montana, Battle for the 509 in Washington, Hole in the Wall Invitational in Washtington, the 5A District 1-2 championships with a perfect score and the 5A state meet prior to Nike Cross Regionals. 

Saturday's win was by five points over the defending regional champion, Southern Oregon Distance Project consisting of runners from Crater High School (Ore.) Four of North Idaho's runners placed in the top 30.

"We wanted to be patient and then grind the last little bit," said freshman Wyatt Carr, who finished 30th in 15:55.3.

North Idaho's runners said they are looking forward to the gear they will receive from Nike at the meet, including custom shoes, jerseys and jackets, and the chance to compete against and meet runners from across the U.S. who qualify for NXN from eight other regions. The magnitude of the moment and being the first Idaho boys team to qualify for NXN is not lost on them, nor is the rise of cross country in the Gem State.

"Idaho's the new Oregon," said senior Lachlan May, who placed 92nd in 16:39.

"It's been coming up," added King. "It's been a long time coming, but it's definitely here."

This will be Roberts' second consecutive appearance at NXN while Heemeyer will be making his first appearance. 

Roberts, who last month became Idaho's first ever four-time girls individual state champion upon winning the 4A state title in a personal best 17:18.06, placed 25th in the Eastbay (formerly Footlocker) National Championships in 2021 in San Diego and was 24th at NXN last year. Eastern Idaho's all-time fastest girl in the 5k, Roberts was third at last year's Nike Cross Northwest Regionals in 17:49.8. 

All five individual girls to qualify for NXN from last year's Nike Cross Northwest Regionals were back on Saturday. All five qualified again, although senior Keira Saavedra qualified as part of girls team champion Lincoln (Ore.), and four of them including Roberts ran faster times than a year ago.

Emily Wisniewski, a junior from Crescent Valley High School, Ore. who holds Oregon's all-time fastest girls 5k time, won Saturday's race in 16:53.1 at the line over East Valley (Wash.) senior Logan Hofstee (second in 16:53.7) while Skyline (Wash.) senior and defending Northwest Regional champion Anna Callahan was third in 17:0.6.8.

Roberts maintained fourth or fifth place throughout the race and was staying aware of who was around her and behind her thanks to spectators.

"All five of us were returning and we've all gotten better," Roberts said. "I knew it would probably be Anna, Logan and Emily ahead of me. It's also kind of nice to hear other people cheering and how long people wait to be cheering for the next person. That kind of gives me a good idea of how far behind they are from me."

Roberts' time was her best ever at Eagle Island. She said competing at a familiar course provides an advantage, and getting out fast at the start to secure a position is key in big meets. 

"You know pretty much every turn so well," Roberts said. "Maintaining that really hard pace at the end I was like, 'OK. We have a half a mile left. I've only got this turn, the straightaway is this long.' It was nice to strategize that."

Roberts has tapered her mileage in the two weeks since Idaho's state meet, which she said she hopes will improve her finish from last year's NXN.

"Hopefully that later peak will hopefully get me to top 10, top 15 spots in the nation," Roberts said. "That would be huge. Just also wanting to prove myself to my future college coaches that they want me, that I'll be an asset for their team."

Heemeyer, who ran 15:05 on Saturday, advances to his first NXN after placing eighth in 15:24.1 at Northwest Regionals last year and placing ninth in 15:14.5 at the Champs Sports (formerly Footlocker) National Championships last December in San Diego. He is a three-time state cross country medalist, placing second two weeks ago at the 5A state meet in 15:16.8.

"It's a huge blessing," Heemeyer said of the opportunity to run at NXN. "It's been a crazy journey these last couple years and this season too. I just hope I can represent my team and all we're about and all the boys that helped me get to this spot."

Heemeyer said he and his team, Grit XC consisting of Rocky Mountain runners, set the goal of going for the win Saturday. Grit XC placed fourth in Saturday's team standings with 143 points. Heemeyer was in 13th place at the 1-mile mark before moving up to second place at the 2-mile mark.

"I just wanted to be a little cautious the first half and just kind of work my way up to striking position and then hopefully run down whoevers's up front," Heemeyer said. "I gave it my best shot at chasing down (winner) Nathan Neil (of Bozeman). It was a fun race."

Neil, a senior, won in a course record 14:49.6, moving from 19th place at the 1k mark to eighth at the 1-mile mark to first at 2.3k, where he kept the lead for good.

Heemeyer also spoke to the progress of Idaho high school cross country in recent seasons.

"Idaho's really on the rise and it's gonna be cool to see what happens in the years to come," he said.

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